It's not an inventive name for a restaurant but Calcutta Indian Food does what it says well. The brother-sister owners are Taiwanese from the West Bengal city and opened the restaurant in Ximending a couple of months ago. Hou Yong-tian (侯勇添) used to be the chef at Spice Shop in Tianmu, so the kitchen has pedigree.
Foreigners, including Indians, form a large portion of the pair's clientele, but locals are being lured in by competitively priced set meals in the week. These range from NT$190 for the vegetarian curry and NT$280 for the lamb, including a salad, soup or drink, nan bread or rice.
Most of the Indian subcontinent's better-known dishes are listed on the menu ("hot and spicy vindaloo," bhuna and madras) but the spicy hot lamb curry mass kolhapuri (a Marathi dish) was a surprise and there is an emphasis on creamy flavors such as pasanda and murgi malai. Side dishes are plentiful and the fiery laccha, a "Delhi-spice salad" is worth trying. Rice is saffron colored and there is a selection of nan breads.
I've visited five or six times and the food has always been of a good standard. It is North Indian in character, according to the owners, tending toward stronger flavors. An example of this was the chicken tandoori, bright orange and baked until it was ever-so-slightly charred. The chicken was good quality and far removed in taste from some of the fake tandooris served up in this city.
Other highlights of previous meals included the iced Darjeeling tea, lemon soda, daal soup and a refreshing homemade milk rice dessert called firni. The channa masala, a chickpea dish with a sweetness balanced by a firm but fair chili kick, come recommended. The raita yogurt is a favorite with many Taiwanese, we were informed, and teased the taste buds. The worst crime as far as Indian food is concerned, is being boring.
Address: 126 Kunming St, Taipei (台北市昆明街126號)
Telephone: (02) 2389-3878
Open: Monday to Friday, 11am to 10pm; weekends open till later. Closed from 2pm to 5pm
Average meal: NT$1,000 for two
Details: Chinese and English menu; credit cards not accepted
The decor will be familiar to lovers of Indian food around the world: Colonial-period, patterned wallpaper in a deep ochre red, a mini chandelier, a few brass fittings and a couple of India-themed pictures. In addition to the usual "fortune cat" (招財貓) waving his paw at the cash desk there is a brass statue of Ganesh the elephant god. Service is informal and friendly.